Climate justice and the role of the legal profession


11 August 2023

Compiled by Effort N Dube

Globally, climate change litigation is on the rise. As of December 2022 [1], it is recorded that climate change cases rose to 2180, compared to 884 in 2017 [2]. While the rise is pretty much at a snail’s pace, there is no doubt that once lawyers fully understand the need to act on emerging issues, the numbers will spike.

The 2023 edition of the Winter School was held from the 21st -22nd July 2023 at Elephant Hills, Victoria Falls, under the theme “Explore. Connect. Learn,” and this year’s edition was graced by Commonwealth Lawyers Association Vice President, Linda Kasonde, and Former Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Professor Author Mutambara. The Winter School is an annual event organized by the Law Society of Zimbabwe, bringing together lawyers from different areas of practice.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association took up this opportunity to connect and explore opportunities for climate justice action among lawyers by sponsoring a session titled “Climate Justice and the Role of the Legal Profession.” This session was led by Professor Patricia Kameri-Mbote. In her presentation, she highlighted that the practice of law is equally threatened by climate change as any other business, and therefore, lawyers need to be aware of climate change-related discussions. Furthermore, climate change directly and indirectly interferes with human rights due to its impacts on ecosystems and natural resources, physical infrastructure, human settlements, livelihoods, health, and security. She reminded everyone that climate action is one of the seventeen sustainable development goals that must be achieved by 2030, and climate justice entails a people-centered approach to climate action. It is at this point that lawyers need to be active and ensure that people are not sidelined when it comes to climate change policies. At the close of her presentation, Prof. Kameri-Mbote encouraged lawyers to be involved in tackling climate justice issues.

Climate ambition around the world remains inadequate to meet the challenge of the climate crisis. Despite improvements in countries’ mitigation and adaptation targets and numerous corporate pledges to achieve net-zero emissions in the future, the international community is still a long way from achieving the goals and objectives of the Paris Agreement. This presents an opportunity for lawyers to seek relief on the enforcement hamstring climate laws, the integration of climate action into existing environmental, energy, and natural resources laws, and orders to legislators, policymakers, and business enterprises to be more ambitious and thorough in their approaches to climate change and compensation for climate harms.

In Zimbabwe, lawyers need to further engage on carbon credit agreements, given the recent framework that has been developed by the government. Other issues relate to the integration of AI in the modern-day practice of legal professionals.

Given the vast opportunities that lie ahead for the legal profession, ZELA plans to

  1. Spearhead the conversation and realization of a just transition through the continued capacitation of lawyers on climate-related issues.
  2. Collaborate with the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) in promoting the inclusion of Climate Change as part of the LSZ’s Continued Professional Development yearly calendar.
  3. Promote the inclusion of communities by lawyers in the drafting of carbon credit agreements with investors, in line with the National Carbon Credit Framework and other internationally recognized frameworks.

[1] Climate litigation more than doubles in five years, now a key tool in delivering climate justice (

[2] Global Climate Litigation Report: 2023 Status Review

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